LGBT Life in the UK
LGBT Life in the UK
LGBT rights in the United Kingdom
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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have evolved dramatically over time.
Before and during the formation of the United Kingdom, Christianity and homosexuality were seen to clash. Same-sex sexual activity was characterized as “sinful” and, under the Buggery Act 1533, was outlawed and punishable by death. LGBT rights first came to prominence following the decriminalization of sexual activity between men, in 1967 in England and Wales, and later in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sexual activity between women was never subject to the same legal restriction.
Since the turn of the 21st century, LGBT rights have increasingly strengthened in support. Some discrimination protections had existed for LGBT people since 1999, but were extended to all areas under the Equality Act 2010. A ban on LGBT individuals serving openly in the armed forces was officially lifted in 2016, though a policy of non-enforcement had been in place since 2000. The age of consent was equalized at 16,[a] regardless of sexual orientation, in 2001. Having been introduced in the 1980s, Section 28, which prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by schools and local authorities, was repealed in 2003. Transgender people have had the ability to apply to change their legal gender since 2005. The same year, same-sex couples were granted the right to enter into a civil partnership, a similar legal structure to marriage, and also to adopt in England and Wales. Scotland later followed on adoption rights for same-sex couples in 2009, and Northern Ireland in 2013. Same-sex marriage was legalized in England and Wales, and Scotland in 2014, and in Northern Ireland in 2020.
Today, LGBT citizens have most of the same legal rights as non-LGBT citizens and the UK provides one of the highest degrees of liberty in the world for its LGBT communities. In ILGA-Europe‘s 2015 review of LGBTI rights, the UK received the highest score in Europe, with 86% progress toward “respect of human rights and full equality” for LGBT people and 92% in Scotland alone. 86% of the UK agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center poll, and a 2017 poll showed that 77% of British people support same-sex marriage. Additionally, the UK currently holds the world record for having the most out LGBTI people in Parliament with 45 out LGBTI MPs elected at the 2019 election.
Around 2% of people self-identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual in a 2017 UK national survey, although YouGov and Stonewall argue this is likely influenced by under-reporting, and estimate that the actual figure is between 5 and 7%. The number of transgender people in the UK is estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000 (roughly 0.5%) as of 2009. LGBT rights organizations and very large LGBT communities have been built across the UK, most notably in Brighton, which is widely regarded as the UK’s unofficial “gay capital”, with other large communities in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh, and Southampton which all have gay villages and host annual pride festivals.
Same-sex sexual activityHomosexuality as an offense 
English law identified anal sex as an offense punishable by hanging as a result of the Buggery Act 1533, which was pioneered by Henry VIII. The Act was the country’s first civil sodomy law, such offenses having previously been dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts. While it was repealed in 1553 on the accession of Mary I, it was re-enacted in 1563 under Elizabeth I. James Pratt and John Smith were the last two to be executed for sodomy in 1835.
Although section 61 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 removed the death penalty for homosexuality, male homosexual acts remained illegal and were punishable by imprisonment. The Labouchere Amendment, section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, extended the laws regarding homosexuality to include any kind of sexual activity between males. Oscar Wilde was convicted under this law and sentenced to 2 years of penal labour. Conversely, lesbians were never acknowledged or targeted by the legislation.
In Scotland, although there were no statutes making sex between men unlawful between 1424 and 1707, homosexual acts were punishable. One example is the commission for the trial of Gavin Bell.
In the early 1950s, the police actively enforced laws prohibiting sexual behavior between men. By the end of 1954, there were 1,069 gay men in prison in England and Wales, with an average age of 37. There were a number of high-profile arrests and trials, including that of scientists, mathematicians, and war-time code-breaker Alan Turing, convicted in 1952 of “gross indecency“. He accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) as an alternative to prison. Turing committed suicide in 1954. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in response to a petition, issued an apology on behalf of the British Government in 2009 for “the appalling way he was treated”. In 1954, the trial and eventual imprisonment of Edward Montagu (the 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu), Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood for committing acts of “homosexual indecency” caused an uproar and led to the establishment of a committee to examine and report on the law covering “homosexual offenses” appointed by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth.
Recognition of same-sex relationshipsCivil partnership
See also: Civil partnership in the United Kingdom
There was no legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Britain until 2005, following the legalization of civil partnerships under the passage of the Civil Partnership Act (Welsh: Deddf Partneriaeth Sifil 2004; Scottish Gaelic: Achd Com-pàirteachasan Sìobhalta 2004) on 18 November 2004. Civil partnerships are a separate union which gives most (but not all) of the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage, but there are recognition issues in other countries and with the use of courtesy titles. Civil partnerships can take place on any approved premise in the UK and in approved religious venues in England and Wales since 2011 (though religious venues are not compelled), but cannot include religious readings, music or symbols. The Civil Partnership Act came into effect on 5 December 2005.
The first civil partnership ceremony took place at 11:00 (GMT) on 5 December 2005 between Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp at St Barnabas Hospice, Worthing, West Sussex. The usual 14-day waiting period was waived as Roche was suffering from a terminal illness. He died the next day. The first civil partnership ceremonies after the statutory waiting period then took place in Northern Ireland on 19 December, with ceremonies following the next day in Scotland and the day after that in England and Wales.
Same-sex marriageA same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom
See also: Same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom
Same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom has been the subject of wide debate since the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain. Previous legislation in England and Wales had prevented the same-sex marriage, including the Marriage Act 1949 which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, the Nullity of Marriage Act 1971 which explicitly banned same-sex marriages, and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which reiterated the provisions of the Nullity of Marriage Act.
While civil partnerships were established nationwide, marriage law is a devolved matter in the United Kingdom and therefore the legislative procedure of same-sex marriage differs by jurisdiction. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which allows same-sex marriage in England and Wales, was passed by the UK Parliament in July 2013 and came into force on 13 March 2014, with the first same-sex marriages taking place on 29 March 2014. The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, allowing same-sex marriage in Scotland, was passed by the Scottish Parliament in February 2014 and came into effect on 16 December 2014.
Same-sex marriages in the UK give all the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage and can be performed on approved premises. This also includes religious venues, providing the religious or belief body has opted-in. However, no religious or belief body is compelled to perform same-sex marriages; the Church of England and the Church in Wales are explicitly banned from doing so. For the purposes of the divorce of a same-sex marriage, the common law definition of adultery remains as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman only, although infidelity with a person of the same sex can be grounds for a divorce as “unreasonable behaviour.” Non-consummation is also excluded as a ground for the annulment of a same-sex marriage.
Between 2012 and 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted five times on same-sex marriage, and although it was passed by a slim majority on the fifth attempt, it was vetoed by the Democratic Unionist Party using the petition of concern. Following the inconclusive 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly election and failure to form a Northern Ireland Executive by the deadline of 21 October 2019, provisions in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which was passed by the UK Parliament on 18 July 2019 and received royal assent on 24 July, mandated the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to pass regulations legalising same-sex marriage by 13 January 2020. The Secretary of State, Julian Smith signed the regulations on 19 December 2019. Same-sex marriage therefore became legal in Northern Ireland on 13 January 2020, with couples free to register their intent to marry and couples who had previously married elsewhere having their unions recognised from that date. The first same-sex marriage ceremony took place in Carrickfergus on 11 February 2020.
Adoption and family planning
Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, Parliament provided that an application to adopt a child in England and Wales could be made by either a single person or a couple. The previous condition that the couple be married was dropped, thus allowing a same-sex couple to apply. The Lords rejected the proposal on one occasion before it was passed. Supporters of the move in Parliament stressed that adoption was not a “gay rights” issue but one of providing as many children as possible with a stable family environment rather than seeing them kept in care. Opponents raised doubts over the stability of relationships outside marriage, and how instability would impact on the welfare of adopted children. However, the law was successfully passed and went into effect on 30 December 2005. Similar legislation was adopted in Scotland, which came into effect on 28 September 2009. Northern Ireland followed suit in December 2013.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 was given royal assent on 13 November 2008. The legislation allows for lesbians and their partners (both civil and de facto) equal access to legal presumptions of parentage in cases of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or assisted/self insemination (other than at home) from the moment the child is born. The law also allows both partners to be identified on the child’s birth certificate by the words “parent”.  The law came into force on 6 April 2009 and is not retroactive (it does not apply before that date). Parental orders for gay men and their partners since 6 April 2010 have been available for surrogacy arrangements.
Since 31 August 2009, legislation granting lesbians equal birth rights in England and Wales came into effect, meaning both can now be named on a child’s birth certificate, amending the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987. The legislation was criticised by those who believe it was “damaging the traditional notion of a family“. Stonewall Head of Policy and Research Ruth Hunt said the new law makes life easier for lesbian families and stated “Now lesbian couples in the UK who make a considered decision to start a loving family will finally be afforded equal access to services they help fund as taxpayers”. Home Office Minister Lord Brett was full of praise in his comments:
This positive change means that, for the first time, female couples who have a child using fertility treatment have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts to be shown as parents in the birth registration. It is vital that we afford equality wherever we can in society, especially as family circumstances continue to change. This is an important step forward in that process.
Iain Duncan Smith, who led efforts to oppose the change, said that “The absence of fathers generally has a detrimental effect on the child.”
In 2016, 9.6% of all adoptions in England involved same-sex couples. This was an increase from 8.4% the previous year. In 2018, about 450 of the 3,820 adoptions (about 12%) in England involved same-sex couples.
Main article: Transgender rights in the United Kingdom
In December 2002, the Lord Chancellor’s office published a “Government Policy Concerning Transsexual People” document that categorically states that transsexualism “is not a mental illness.”
Since 4 April 2005, as per the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (Welsh: Deddf Cydnabod Rhywedd 2004; Scottish Gaelic: Achd Aithneachadh Gnè 2004), it has been possible for transgender people to change their legal gender in the UK, allowing them to acquire a new birth certificate, affording them full recognition of their acquired sex in law for all purposes. Transgender people must present evidence to a Gender Recognition Panel, which considers their case and issues a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC); they must have transitioned two years before a GRC is issued. It is not a requirement for sex reassignment surgery to have taken place, although such surgery will be accepted as part of the supporting evidence for a case where it has taken place. There is formal approval of medical gender reassignment available either on the National Health Service (NHS) or privately.
However, there have been concerns regarding marriages and civil partnerships. Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, transgender people who are married have been required to divorce or annul their marriage in order for them to be issued with a GRC. The Government chose to retain this requirement in the Act as effectively it would have legalised a small category of same-sex marriages. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 allowed the creation of civil partnerships between same-sex couples, but a married couple that includes a transgender partner cannot simply re-register their new status. They must first have their marriage dissolved, gain legal recognition of the new gender and then register for a civil partnership. This is like any divorce with the associated paperwork and costs.
With the legalisation of same-sex marriage in England and Wales, existing marriages will continue where one or both parties change their legal gender and both parties wish to remain married. The legislation also does not restore any of the marriages of transgender people that were forcibly annulled as a precondition for them securing a GRC and states that a GRC will not be issued unless the spouse of the transgender person has consented. If the spouse does not consent, the marriage must be terminated before a GRC may be issued.
In July 2020, following protests which occurred over government plans to scrap changes to the Gender Recognition Act that would improve the legal rights and recognition of trans people, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to examine potential reforms to the Gender Recognition Act “over the summer.”
Main article: Intersex rights in the United Kingdom
Intersex people in the United Kingdom face significant gaps, particularly in protection from non-consensual medical interventions, and protection from discrimination. Actions by intersex organisations aim to eliminate unnecessary medical interventions and harmful practices, promote social acceptance, and equality in line with Council of Europe and United Nations demands.
Regulations were introduced for discrimination protections on sexual orientation in employment on 1 December 2003, following the adoption of an EC Directive in 2000, providing for the prohibition of discrimination in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation. The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 created certain legal protections for transgender people for the first time in British history. The Regulations banned discrimination against individuals undergoing “gender reassignment” in employment and vocational training. Similar legislation, the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999, was passed in Northern Ireland. The Sex Discrimination (Amendment of Legislation) Regulations 2008 extended these protections to cover discrimination in goods, facilities and services
On 30 April 2007, the Sexual Orientation Regulations came into force, following the introduction of similar provisions in Northern Ireland in January 2007. They provided a general prohibition of discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation. Similar legislation had long previously been in force in respect of discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, disability and marital status. The introduction of the Regulations was controversial and a dispute arose between the Government and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales over exemptions for Catholic adoption agencies.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham declared his opposition to the Act, saying that the legislation contradicted the Catholic Church’s moral values. Several Catholic adoption agencies requested exemption from sexual orientation regulations, and the adoption charity Catholic Care obtained a judgement on 17 March 2010 instructing the Charity Commission to reconsider its case. The Charity Commission again found no grounds to make an exception for Catholic Care, a decision upheld on appeal. In August 2011, the Upper Tribunal agreed to hear the charity’s fourth appeal in the case. In November 2012, the appeal was dismissed by the Upper Tribunal, with the Tribunal ruling in favour of the Charity Commission. Catholic Care stated its intention to appeal the judgement.
In October 2007, the Government announced that it would seek to introduce an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act to create a new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. This followed the creation of an offence on religious hatred that had proved controversial in 2006 (see Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006). Incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation was already illegal in Northern Ireland. Scotland[clarification needed] enacted similar legislation in 2009, which also includes gender identity as a protected ground.
The Equality Act 2010 (Welsh: Deddf Cydraddoldeb 2010; Scottish Gaelic: Achd na Co-ionannachd 2010; Cornish: Reyth Parder 2010) received royal assent on 8 April 2010. The primary purpose of the Act was to codify the complicated and numerous array of Acts and Regulations, which formed the basis of anti-discrimination law in the UK including the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and three major statutory instruments protecting discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation and age. This legislation has the same goals as the US Civil Rights Act 1964 and four major EU equal treatment directives, whose provisions it mirrors and implements. It requires equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services, regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, transgender status, belief and age. The Act amended the Approved Premises (Marriage and Civil Partnership) Regulations 2005 to allow civil partnership ceremonies on religious premises in England and Wales. It also extended transgender rights, banning discrimination by schools on the grounds of gender reassignment.
Other initiatives have included the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights on 1 October 2007 which is tasked with working for equality in all areas and replaced the previous commissions dedicated to sex, race and disability alone; the setting up of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Advisory Group within the Department of Health; a provision of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that a court must treat hostility based on sexual orientation as an aggravating factor for sentencing a person; guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service on dealing with homophobic crimes; and a commitment from the Government to work for LGBT rights at an international level.
Main article: Section 28
The 1980s saw a setback for LGBT rights. The availability in the libraries of schools run by the Inner London Education Authority of a book considered by some to “promote” homosexuality led to protests and a campaign for new legislation. Consequently, the Local Government Act 1988 included a provision prohibiting “the intentional promotion of homosexuality” by any local authority and “the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” The provision was known as Section 28, and amended section 2A of the earlier Local Government Act 1986. Changes in the structure of local government since that date led to some confusion over the precise circumstances in which the new law applied, including the question of whether or not it applied at all in state schools.
Section 28 (called Section 2A in Scotland) was repealed in Scotland within the first two years of the existence of the Scottish Parliament, by the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000. A move to remove the provision in England and Wales was prevented following opposition in the House of Lords, led by Baroness Young. Following her death in 2002, it was repealed by the Labour Government in the Local Government Act 2003, which took effect on 18 November 2003. During the passage of the bill, no attempt was made to retain the section and an amendment seeking to preserve it using ballots was defeated in the House of Lords. In June 2009, David Cameron, Conservative Party Leader, formally apologised for his party introducing the law, stating that it was a mistake and offensive to gay people.
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